Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The New Snake Oil Salesmen

Remember the snake oil salesmen from the old Western movies? They were sort of traveling "doctors" with dubious credentials, selling some elixir (such as snake oil) with ridiculous marketing claims often supported by pseudo scientific evidence which was typically bogus. To enhance sales, an accomplice in the crowd (a "shill") would often "attest" the value of the product in an effort to provoke buying enthusiasm. The "doctor" would typically leave town just before his customers realized that they had been cheated.

Well, as they say, a sucker is born every minute, and the new snake oil salesmen are taking advantage of this unfortunate fact of life by hawking acai berry based products to the unsuspecting hoards.

Claiming everything from weight loss, the smoothing of facial lines, increased energy, curing cancer and reversing baldness, to name a few, acai berry, according to these scammers, is the miracle substance of the 21st Century. According to one acai snake oil company, “it will help you live a longer, healthier and happier life”. (I think the makers of Valium make a similar claim).

They even claim to have Oprah and Dr. Oz as their supporters (these would be their high powered shills), but both of these celebrities have gone out of their way to disassociate themselves from any products containing acai berry, and their lawyers are in active pursuit of these companies.

First some basic science regarding the acai berry. Virtually every berry -- blueberry, strawberry, goji, acai -- are anti-inflammatory and high in antioxidants. (This is good). This particular one is exotic. It's found in Brazil. However, Acai is a very sensitive fruit that cannot be just shipped up from the Amazon without losing about 95% of its effective nutritional properties. And most drying/freezing methods also render the anti-oxidant value to well below other more commonly available fruits. You can buy acai products all over the United States, but almost none of them have the actual benefits of fresh, whole acai.

Even worse, many of the products claiming acai’s benefits are so called energy drinks that are pumped full of caffeine and sugar. One such product sold via a pyramid scheme has 15 grams of sugar (for rotting your teeth) and other man made vitamins that have not been proven to be fact recent studies show they could be harmful. A great deal for 4 bucks a can....

Imagine a network marketing operation powered by tens of thousands of highly caffeinated, sugar buzzed acai zealots occupying “virtually”, via Facebook, every street corner in America. Yee Haw! There’s gold in them there social networks!

If you really want powerful antioxidants and energy, why not a strong cup of coffee or a glass of tea, two totally natural and inexpensive drinks that are gaining a well researched reputation for healthfulness. The latest news on coffee is that regular use could reverse the impacts of Alzheimer's disease. The great news about tea is that it is actually healthier than water, and protects against heart disease and some cancers. And all this research is conducted by real professionals working for real universities in approved research environments.

Ironically, our susceptibility to snake oil salesmen and other marketers of sugary elixirs are helping fuel a rise in obesity and diabetes while denying people the benefits of more proven healthful drinks, which is the exact opposite of what they are promoting.

People are drinking less tea and coffee than before, and drinking more vile man made elixirs than ever. WTF!

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